We made our way up the King's Cross train station and through Platform 9 3/4, boarded the Hogwarts Express, and after a brief yet richly themed experience found our way at Hogsmeade less than four minutes later.
As we were getting off the train, my wife turned to me, offering up four simple words:
"Sell your Disney stock."
Now, she knows that I'm not about to do that. She bought me my very first share of the family entertainment giant in the late 1980s when we started going out. You marry that kind of fiscally fancy whimsy.
She's not the only one realizing that Disney (NYSE:DIS) seems to be coasting with its theme parks at a time when Comcast's (UNKNOWN:CMCSK.DL) Universal Orlando is raising the bar. This is shaping up to be a big summer for Central Florida, and while Disney's major addition is a tame, sparse, and surprisingly brief mine train coaster, Comcast's Diagon Alley expansion to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience is more ambitious than anything that Disney has cooked up in ages.
Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley doesn't officially open at Universal Studios Florida until tomorrow, but park guests have been invited to kick the tires in recent days. I was there on Saturday afternoon, taking in the sense-awakening experience with my wife and youngest son.
It's going to be the big draw to Central Florida in the coming months, even if Disney continues to have the advantage when it comes to turnstile clicks. According to industry group Themed Entertainment Association, Disney continues to watch over the country's six most visited theme parks. Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida command the next two slots, attracting 8.1 million and 7.1 million guests, respectively, last year.
However, that's going to change with this bold expansion. We weren't able to experience the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Bank indoor coaster, which has been buggy for the handful of media hands and resort package guests who have been able to go on the reportedly impressive ride. But we were able to explore the shops of Diagon Alley and even take in an early dinner at The Leaky Cauldron between our round-trip experience on the Hogwarts Express, which is the most financially brilliant thing that any theme park operator has ever done.
It's not about the train ride, which in itself is a surprisingly intimate family-friendly winner. Since the journey connects the Potter areas of Universal Orlando's two theme parks, they don't let you board unless you have either the more expensive day ticket that includes admission to both parks or you're fortunate enough to have an annual pass. In a slick move, each station sells the two-part ticket upgrade, and those ticket stations were busy taking money from muggles over the weekend.
Add it all up and the Hogwarts Express experience alone is not only going to make a ton of incremental dough from folks upgrading their tickets, but it's also going to lead to a spike in attendance as visitors take in both parks. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Comcast's two gated attractions in Orlando surpass Disney's less popular stateside parks in attendance within a year or two.
Disney doesn't seem worried. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is commanding long lines since opening in late May, and its latest addition -- a series of temporary shows and attractions themed to the wildly popular Frozen -- is generating decent fan buzz at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, anyone with an unbiased measuring stick will be able to see that Universal Orlando is the one that shot for the moon this summer. If you don't see it that way, just take in the reports of the insane crowds that will be lining up to get into Universal Studios Florida tomorrow. I'm not letting go of my Disney stock, but the certificates are starting to get a little sweaty.